Wow. Wow. Wow. Comrades done! Down run complete and back to back medal in hand.
This run has turned into more of an epic adventure than I would of thought.
Just a quick recap for those first reading this. Comrades Marathon is 89.13km if you are a speedy runner who wins or comes in the top ten and can run the racers line. For the rest of us 19000 plus plebs who weave and meander our way over the umpteen hills and turns and cambers in the road, well the added mileage can make our run anywhere from 90-94km. So my run was 90.07 km and I will not round down that .07m as every one of my 103 942 steps counted. My pace average for the distance was 6.23 min/km. That is including my average run pace and my walk pace up the mountains. I judged my run pace well. I seriously misjudged Drummond and Cowies and did not even account for the small up hills at the end.
Training for the Comrades commenced six months ago, but drama kicked in hard a mere ten days before toeing the start line. Our last social group run of the training season had me spewing several times, which was quite alarming. By that night I was quite ill. Stubbornly I refused to let a “mere bug” knock me down, however by the Monday morning I knew I was in trouble. By the Wednesday my flu bug had developed into full blown viral chest/lung infection with sky high fevers, laying me flat in bed for another 5 days. I am not sure which was worse the fevers and the coughing or all the crying I did. Two days before I was due to fly out I was still very concerned that I was not even well enough to fly out to South Africa, let alone run. It looked like the whole event was completely off, including the family visit. More tears. One day to go, and I was finally able to move around, go for a light jog, hanging onto my asthma pump for dear life. Decision was a go ahead to fly out. Decision to run was still in abeyance. By Wednesday night, with 3 days to the start, I finally felt I was able to line up at the start and at
least attempt to finish. I felt very deflated, but just did not want to give up.
Sunday morning 3am my alarm went off. I woke up feeling very calm, having accepted my fate that this was not going to be the run I had trained so hard for. However grateful I would still run and hopefully achieve my back to back medal, a once only opportunity. I started my run wearing my Luna sandals as running in the dark barefoot is a big no no, the roads are pretty poor in the beginning and very wet and cold. Going into my seeding pen, I was cool calm and collected. Until I saw just how close to the start line I was. Remember 20 000 people entered! Last year I did the Up run, starting in D seed. The start of that race was extremely crowded and your pace was controlled entirely by the mass of people and the pace the crowd moved at. This year for the down run, I was in C seed. What a difference. Our batch was across the line in a minute, and we were all running at a respectable pace, not fast, not slow, just right.
I had a detailed race plan that I had memorised. I intended to keep to my race plan as much as possible. I hit the half way mark exactly to the minute of my plan, and was thrilled. Along the way I had collected two partners in crime, Theboho and Oliver. I paused at my seconding tent at the half way mark, and some how lost my partners. Concerned I waited and called them as I had been pulling them with me, and besides I liked the “team” we had formed. I could not find them, and this is where I blew my race plan. Having wasted precious minutes, I stupidly tried to make up time running up Drummond Hill. Oh my word. That hill is a beast. It was way tougher, way longer, than I ever imagined. By the time I finally got to the top, I had lost 9 minutes off my time. I was not too stressed and figured I still had 40km odd to reel that in. Famous last words. At this point I removed my Luna sandals/slops and went completely barefoot. My run pace kept exactly to plan, but I was stressing about my lost time. At approximately 70km I hit my one and only horror cramp attack. Screaming in pain on the side of the road, some angelic by stander leapt to my side and gave me the most abusively divine massage and the cramp released. Just after this point one of the ladies running near me grabbed an ice cold beer from another spectator and insisted we share this. I have never drunk beer in my life ever. That was the BEST drink I have had in my life!
Then Cowies hill. Let’s correct that- Cowies Mountain ! It seems like a hill in the car, but try running up that beast after 70km’s. Wowie. I got beat well and truely. By the time I got to the top of Cowies I knew my time was blown. The first mental challenge to really hit me. Disappointed in myself that I would miss my goal by mere minutes. I knew I could still maintain my run pace of 5:40, but it would not be enough to make up time and I knew I could not go faster. I accepted my fate of a 9:15-9:20 finish, but the fight in me began to fade.
The race profile and my race plan had the last 7km as a sweet downward gradient aka…let gravity take you. My planned pace through this was 6 min/km. Well when they changed the finish to Kingsmead stadium, there was not one single reference to the approximate 10 (possibly 100) off ramps en route through Durban, that is a free way off ramp. It goes UP, and then down, over and over again. My mind mutinied on me. The eyes had accepted “see hill will walk”. The legs had very happily complied. After 85km, now tell said eyes and Legs that this is no longer the plan. No matter how much my brain argued with the eyes and the legs to run up those stupid off ramps, the legs would not co-operate. At this point I was feeling very light headed and suddenly spied some poor soul enjoying his cold beer on the spectator side. Running up to said chap, I politely asked for his beer, took a few big swigs, gave him back his beer with a big thank you and continued. I am not sure what stunned him most – my barefeet or the beer drinking! This last 7km section turned out to be my nemesis, and cost me another 12 minutes, but by then I was past caring.
As I ran through that stadium I suddenly realised all that beer drinking had me needing the loo very urgently, having not taken a single loo break en route. I came across that finish line in 9h 35mins extremely eager to grab my back to back medal and get to a loo pronto. Horrors, I was channeled off to the side and had a camera in my face. Trying very hard not to cross my legs or to collapse, I gabbled out something to a question and was keen to even forego collecting my medal and get to a loo. No. I was kept to the side and had yet another interviewer in my face. By now I think I was going delirious. Forgive me people, I do not hold myself responsible for the dribble I uttered.
By the time I finally got to that loo there was more drama. I could n.o.t. S.i.t. D.o.w.n. Every attempt resulted in Cramp and spasm.
What did I learn about myself at this Comrades run?
1. I can drink beer
2. I still do not like hills
3. A girl can wee without sitting (TMI I know, but girls it can be done!)
Now the Comrades Marathon is super special. Not just because of its 90km route. The comradie of the runners and the amazing spectators is really special. Last year I could not find the word that described it. This year I can. ONE. In this race we are ONE. It is the only time I have encountered where there truely is no discrimination. No racial difference. No colour difference. No gender differences. No culture difference. No age difference. No class difference. No speed difference. No weight difference. We are one. We are a runner. One. Just a runner.
What was the hardest moment for me? The finish. Not my finish. The 12 hour gun finish. Being right there at the finish line, screaming for those in the last seconds to get across the timing mat, to see the heart break of those stopped, only a second too late. They have run 90kms, been running it for 12 hours and one second. Too late. Did not make cut off. By one second. No medal. No flower. No finishing hug. No badge of honour. To see the others as they rounded the bend and saw the clock over 12 hours, and to know they would not get a finish for their run. In my book they did it! They did the distance! It does not matter how fast or slow, running 90km through the Valley of a Thousand Hills is a massive achievement. Well done. Congratulations. Izokuletho. It Will Humble You.